'How's Hot Gym Boy?' Why Girls Make Up Names for the Guys They Date

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Refusing to tell your friends a guy's real name lessens the sting if he never calls back.

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It's the norm to over-share. My friends and I are guilty of this. We divulge every serious and petty aspect of our dating lives, but there's one detail that we are shy about sharing: the names of those we are speaking about. We hold back our excitement, manage our expectations, and heed with caution—all by referring to those we're seeing as anything but their given names. As soon as we begin to tell a story about a date we had, or someone we've just met the first question is: "Wait, what should we call him?"

Sometimes the nicknames are creative: The Crusader (super religious with a wild side in the bed), HGB (short for Hot Gym Boy), and The Meatball (round, stubby, and Italian). One woman told me, "one of my favorites is the guy my friend is dating now—he was formerly a bit of a slut, so we call him TRW, for The Repentant Whore." Then there's the self-explanatory: Hot Hat-Wearing Balding Guy, or Formerly Fat Chris. And the more generic ones that still serve their purpose: The Writer, The Brit, The Professor, SoCal. As time goes by, and there's more than one guy who could be described by a particular nickname, we feel the need to affix new descriptors for clarification purposes (i.e. The Brit Without the Maniacal Laugh). Some even have formulas for nicknames, such as taking their real first name and adding the bar or location in which they met as their last name.

One friend of mine, we'll call her Janie, met a very eligible bachelor at the Stumble Inn, an Upper-East Side sports bar. They exchanged numbers. With little to go off after meeting someone briefly in a bar during the wee hours of the morning, granting him a nickname wasn't the easiest of tasks. Thus, "The Stumbler" was born, after the name of the bar we were at that night.

Janie and The Stumbler went on several promising dates, including dinner and drinks, a key factor in determining where a relationship is heading. But after several more dates Janie was still referring to him as his nickname, refusing to let her guard down and legitimize their relationship on any level.

Next thing you know, The Stumbler started, well, stumbling. First he was having problems with his phone, then he was traveling for work, then more problems with his phone (oh, get a new one already!). At first Janie questioned his behavior. "Is he ghosting me??" she asked. ("Ghosting" is the term for those who abruptly disappear without a trace. It's a sudden end in communication that is unforeseen—and almost always unwarranted. Three great dates and you think you've established some sort of connection and you'd like to continue seeing the person when suddenly, an "I'll see you this week!" turns into never hearing from the person again. When you text or call them to make sure they weren't just waiting for you to reach out, and get no response. No texts, no calls, nothing.)

Sure enough, The Stumbler was indeed ghosting. He made occasional excuses every couple of days for his lack of communication, only to eventually power down on the relationship entirely. True to his name, The Stumbler stumbled on out of Janie's life, just as easily as he entered in.

Because she had never invested her emotions into naming him, it was relatively easy to laugh the experience off. The fact that "ghosting" is a frequent occurrence leaves many, like Janie, to rely on nicknames as a defense mechanism.

Another not-so-friendly ghost: The Musician. We went on several great non-dates: ice cream, coffee, a movie, a TV night in. We made plans to see each other one Sunday, when he was free from his alleged family duties. Well, Sunday came and went... six months ago. Our song and dance abruptly became a solo one. When I ran into him a few months later at a bar, he stood no more than ten feet away while looking just past me at the television screen to watch the Jets game without so much as a "hello."

I called a love doctor to find out why nicknames are so prevalent in the narratives of dating lives in this day and age—to make sense of this culture of disappearance, low expectation, and nicknames as a means of asserting control. According to Pat Love, Ed.D. (and yes, that is her last name), a certified relationship educator and author of popular books like Hot Monogamy and The Truth About Love, this phenomenon is reflective of our current social atmosphere. "We're dating lots and lots of people, never before in our history have we had the insight ...and access to so many individuals. And that's new in the history of our species."

Love continues, "And I think, that along with that, comes the phenomenon of short-term dating. Prior to this era, when you met somebody, and you really were travelling in smaller circles and because just the mileage that we covered was smaller, we'd have the opportunity to check them out -you went through that initial screening process before you had a date."

It's a subconscious psychological mind-game that we play with ourselves—and it is heavily supported by our best friends who legitimize and often help initiate these name games. We're not purposefully giving those we date names to keep them at arm's length, though it certainly does protect our emotions when and if the relationship doesn't pan out. It stings a little less when you never acknowledged the person's name or legitimized them.

One 23-year-old in New York City explains, "I have always said that we can call them by their real name when they are worthy! Most of them never make it that far!"

I look forward to the day where I can boldly mention the proper name of someone I'm dating in casual conversation. Until then, I'm predicting that the alias of my next fling will be The Ryan Gosling Doppelgänger.

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Sara Ashley O'Brien

Sara Ashley O'Brien is a freelance writer based in New York City.  Her work often appears in the New York Post's Business section.

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